Beck Wheeler is an illustrator, childrens book author and pop surrealist artist who creates art from paint, wood, found objects and digital media. As an illustrator she has helped develop campaigns for national and international brands. Her clients include Les Mills, SPCA, Telecom, H2Go, V energy drink and Karma Cola. As an artist she exhibits regularly internationally, showing her artwork in the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

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 More about Beck as an Illustrator:

In 2013 Beck worked on the brand identity of Karma Cola, a fair trade cola that went onto win the Purple Pin, two Golds and a Silver in the New Zealand Best awards. Her work on the Karma Cola branding also won her a Distinguished Merit in the 3 x 3 International Illustration Awards.

“As an illustrator I pride myself in being able to work creatively within tight deadlines. I enjoy being part of a team and developing an idea from conception through to delivery.”- Beck Wheeler

Beck has won Gold and Silver in the Illustrator Australia Awards, was named one of Australia’s Top Ten Creatives by Design Quarterly and has won various other awards over her ten years working as an Illustrator within the design community.

“When working on a job, I like to surround myself with relevant visual inspiration and create an environment to work in that is relevant to each job. For example, when working on the Karma Cola branding I surrounded myself with imagery from ceremonial masks and costumes from Sierra Leone (where the cola nuts for Karma Cola are sourced). I also listened to music from Sierra Leone and my studio became a buzzing hive of African rhythms and vibes for a few weeks. I approach illustration as I would painting or sculpture. I believe research is important and that the energy created by a holistic approach to image making makes for a visually exciting image.”– Beck Wheeler

Beck started her career as a toy designer for Kissy Kissy Toys. A brand she launched in Melbourne in 2005. Kissy Kissy Toys were stocked in stores across the USA, Canada and Australia. Beck Wheeler designed a limited edition toy for the musician Beck, creating a plush toy for the release of The Information album in 2006. Kissy Kissy Toys has now been rebranded as Kissy Kissy Kids a brand in which Beck creates educational art for children.

Beck has a particular passion for creating large scale murals for hospital environments. She has written a research paper on creating feelings of well being through art and colour. This research is specific to Childrens Hospitals. Beck worked alongside a team of Designers, Wayfinding Specialists and Hospital Staff to create designs for Royal Melbourne Childrens Hospital. She has designed and painted an interactive mural for Starship Childrens Hospital in Auckland and is currently fundraising to get to Uganda. The upcoming Uganda project will see her paint murals for a clinic and school within Noah’s Arc Childrens Ministry in Uganda.

Beck writes and illustrates childrens books. Her first book How Absurd was published by Lothian Books in Australia in 2007. How Absurd is a story about a young girl who imagines all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. Beck is working on a new series of books. Stay tuned for more details.

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Illustration Testimonials:

“I love working with Beck… there I said it. Beck is full of ideas and enthusiasm and we receive her wonderful illustrations in quick time. Being in Wellington, we have to work remotely, and she is easily able to be briefed via conference call and comes up with thoughts and approaches on the fly. She really cares about her craft and it shows in what she produces.”

– Scott McMillan / Director of Print Media

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More about Beck as an Artist:

Beck creates works of pop surrealism using found objects, enamel, acrylic and wood. Her artworks create a visual language which explores character based narratives through neo-tribalism.

Beck Wheeler is a New Zealand artist who works across the fields of painting, sculpture and digital media. Her character based works use colour and pattern to tell stories.

Beck Wheeler was born in Hamburg, Germany and raised in Beach Haven, New Zealand. Beck started drawing characters as a kid, and over the years has learnt to carve, sculpt and paint. In 2000 Beck moved to Australia where she lived until 2010. While living in Melbourne, Beck established herself as a multi-disciplinary artist and installed her character based works in galleries, alley ways and shop windows.

Beck is an internationally recognised artist who has exhibited in Japan, Europe, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. She has gallery representation at 19 Karen Gallery (Queensland, Australia) and Penny Contemporary (Tasmania, Australia).

See the exhibitions section for a full list of exhibitions.

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Here are a selection of reviews from around the globe:

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Beck talks more about her art:

“I aim to stay in touch with my childhood imagination. Over the years I have done a number of drawing workshops and toy making workshops with children and young people and am constantly inspired by the way children draw, colour-in and talk about what they are drawing.

My artwork is driven by character, texture, pattern, shape and colour. Whether I am painting, drawing, sculpting or animating I always start with a character and a story. Characters can emerge from a mark or a stain on the floor, a pattern on the trunk of  a tree or a person or animal I meet.

While I was based in Melbourne my characters were often based on people I met and conversation I overheard on trams. Davo the Man-Bunny was a character I designed after a friend got beaten up in the city for ‘being a poof’ and ‘wearing tight jeans’. Davo became a parody of the attacker, a playful look at the stereotype of a homophobic/sexist/racist Ozzie. The Mother of all Evils was a character I designed for my 2008 solo show Hey, Hey Which Way. In the lead up to designing The Mother of all Evils I asked people I met what they thought happened when you die? where do you go? what is heaven? and what is hell?The Mother of all Evils was designed around the answers I received about hell and the devil. My work is not meant to be scary or gloomy, I seek to balance scary and cute, good and evil, bright and dark, male and female, rural and urban. I seek to create work that neutralises opposites.

I am currently based in Piha, New Zealand. Since returning to New Zealand last year I have been overwhelmed by the textures within nature here. Coming from Australia, after seeing the effects of drought and fire, New Zealand’s landscape is bursting with life, colour and texture. The house I live in is being swallowed up by bush on all sides. We get all kinds of birdlife and all kinds of insects setting up residence in our house and garden. The patterns and texture of nature are things that are becoming more and more apparent in my work.

I was born in Hamburg, Germany and moved to England and then New Zealand when I was a toddler. Throughout my childhood my dad read me stories from European folklore. Tales that were full of mystery, adventure and danger. Tales where the lines between good and evil were sometimes blurred. When I went to school I learnt the Maori legend about Maui and how he pulled Te Ika a Maui (the north island of New Zealand) out of the ocean with his magic fishhook. When living in Australia I learnt about aboriginal art, Dreamtime and dot painting.

I am inspired by the oral tradition of folklore and the passing down of stories from generation to generation. I like how these stories can vary slightly depending on who is the storyteller. When I create art I create my own story. When people see my work I want them to create their own story about why the work is created, what the characters are and how they relate to each other.” – Beck Wheeler

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Beck Wheeler – Art Catalogue Essay – Written by Anna Krien

www.annakrien.com

Exhibition – “Hey Hey, Which Way?”

There is a saying that for every five bodies in a cemetery, there’s an extra one. On certain nights, so the rumour goes, the gates are left unlocked, a hole left unfilled and two spades are pronged in a mound of dirt like kebab sticks. These extra bodies make the dead jump as they are dumped on top of expensive coffins, gate-crashing the funerals of the properly buried. The only send-off said under a black cellophane sky for them is ‘good fucking riddance’ and if they’re lucky, the glowing butt of a cigarette thrown in after them – a tiny torch to take into the afterlife.

Beck Wheeler’s collection Hey Hey, Which Way? is a labyrinth journey into the afterlife. Based on a board game she used to play with her siblings, Wheeler has entwined fables, polemic, ancient beliefs with the oddly beautiful and lucid realities of the departed. If our subconscious were an ocean, then she has paddled across it and collected all the messages in bottles that have drifted between the living and the dead. “Death is like being in the womb. You can hear everyone around you, but they’re muffled, they are underwater,” says a departed father to his daughter, his message captured in a painting.

When it comes to Beck Wheeler settling on her own insurance plan for the afterlife, she has had a range of options. Growing up in Beach Haven (a small New Zealand town that ironically had no beach – only mangroves and a fish n’ chips shop), her parents followed the teachings of Sheikh Abdullah Isa Neil Dougan, a group that merged Sufi, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. However for the sake of the girls getting a good education, Wheeler and her siblings were sent to a Catholic school. “So we grew up with a mix of Sufi services that included the adults dressing in robes and lighting candles, then going to Catholic Mass where followers lined up to drink the blood of Christ. I never really understood either ceremony as a child. They both seemed like a game.”

Hence the theatrical depiction of the afterlife in Wheeler’s installation and paintings. There is the cosmic egg, magical wheat silos, the dance of a thousand virgins, banished souls burping out spores, embalmed mummies avidly reading the Book of the Dead, perilous journeys and so many tests – the afterlife is like year 12 all over again.

But are these beliefs, rituals and cemeteries more for the living, than the dead? In the same way black armbands are for those left behind, perhaps the seven layers of hell in Islam (which is very different to my housemate’s dessert named Seven Layers of Delight– think peanut brittle, condensed milk, meringue, jelly and more) is simply a convincing way to reinforce the law.

In America, it’s said that after the electrical switch has been flicked on death row – the fluorescents shuddering throughout the jail – the family of the executed will often rush to the funeral home so they can embrace the warm body before life evaporates from it, leaving a cold corpse. Then they might discuss Jesus and how forgiving he is. But for these departed souls, what then? Is it is a case of ‘Hey hey which way?’

Beck Wheeler’s work has a haunting poignancy and comic sadness. Her creations make faux pas, they ask the wrong questions and then awkwardly hang around for the answer. Struggling with the big questions and life’s mundane certainties (for some creatures, it’s merely gravity they grapple with, their saggy green bosoms hanging painfully to the ground), one sad character reveals to another “While I was dreaming of death, you were dreaming of dinner”.

Wheeler’s work is unafraid to relate to ordinary chores, everyday habits, and imperfect people. When travelling in Cuba, I came across the work of Os Gemeos, identical twin brothers who paint together. In their Brazilian hometown of Sao Paulo, Os Gemeos have transformed the landscape with their characters that hiss at passer-bys on the street like a pimp trying to show off his lovely ladies. Their odd characters engage with one another, often revealing small truths about themselves in the process. To me, Beck Wheeler’s work promises a similar resonance, spooking passer-bys and offering a carnival engagement to its viewers.

It has been documented that people who have returned from the dead will often describe a sensation of hovering above their body, their souls getting a birds-eye view of the situation. In fact, this ‘reporting back’ from the dead has happened so often, that one UK hospital decided to place a LED screen in their emergency surgery, placing it in a position that only the recently dead could see it if looking down from the ceiling. The test was to see if those who reported back from the dead, could recall the message flashing on its screen. So far no one has been able to.

But perhaps we’re being too literal. Maybe a hovering sensation doesn’t actually physically mean we’re rising. It is not fully understood how brain cells generate thoughts. In England, one research team is has produced significant evidence to suggest the mind or consciousness is independent of the brain. The lead researcher, Dr Parnia says “… The brain is definitely needed to manifest the mind, a bit like how a television set can take what essentially are waves in the air and translate them into picture and sound.”

So if our bodies are the equivalent of televisions, when we die we lose that expression – but perhaps the signal sticks around. I get the sense in this exhibition, in Beck Wheeler’s take on the afterlife, we will all be hovering for before us are the dreams, the memories and the messages that have drifted between the living and the dead. Whether we see an LED screen or not, I don’t think it matters.

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Beck Wheeler – Written by Abbey Joyce

Beck Wheeler is a NZ artist Based in Piha. Wheeler has her fingers in many artistic pies and lends her hand to a variety of disciplines. These include painting, illustration, sculpting, toymaking, textiles, woodwork , as well as being a published childrens author. From the 23rd of October -3rd of November the High Seas gallery shall be hosting her first solo NZ show.

Located in Beresford Sq Auckland, the High Seas is a grassroots style of gallery run by a local artist and musician duo, dreamt up in the wake of Cross St Gallery’s demise. It is populated by folk involved with the fringe culture of the nearby K Rd. The Gallery also doubles as a record/book store specialising in alternative music and homemade zines. All in all, a perfect space for Wheelers whimsical artworks to be housed.

The exhibition is comprised of 37 brightly coloured works, in a mixture of mediums. Acrylic paintings on large thick wood panels hang next to dainty pen and ink illustrations on watercolour paper. A video installation in the corner of the room commands attention, it is housed inside a giant cardboard box theatre, decorated with Wheelers patterns and features music as well as an enchanting illustrated animation. In the middle of the room sit ‘The Decoy Series”, a set of strange birdlike figurines made from found items and painted with acrylic. They appear to be constructed mostly from wooden kitchen utensils, furniture legs and clothes pegs. They allude to totem poles: different characters are stacked on top of one another, their faces cheeky, imp-like. To top it off (or Bottom it, rather) each figurine has a shuttlecock feathered tail attached to its behind.

Across these works run similar themes and recurring motifs, Wheelers trademark patterns feature in all and some of her characters appear to be leaping from one painting into the next, as if they could shift between each landscape at whim. The collection is described by Wheeler as being an homage to New Zealand landscape. Bush, beaches, mountains and stormy skies all feature heavily. Wheelers creations may appear to be a make-believe land where hills have faces, but they are also rooted solidly in nature.

“The Swandris Guys” are a series of paintings in glossy acrylics on wood, featuring humanoid red and blue creatures checked from head to toe in swan-dri style. In the piece pictured above, they are situated across a wide open green space in the foreground and seem to be happily carrying out typical activities of people in a natural environment, for example: dog-walking, jogging, roasting marshmallows over camp fires or having a sneaky public pee. Meanwhile the trees, hills and natural forms in the landscape behind them appear to be watching, with somewhat enigmatic expressions. I couldn’t decide whether they were disapproving of the aforementioned activities or wanted to join in the fun, or were merely bemused, but each hypothesis led me on to a differently imagined narrative. Wheeler’s web bio reveals that this is exactly what she sets out to achieve: “When I create art I create my own story. When people see my work I want them to create their own story about why the work is created, what the characters are and how they relate to each other.”

Her web bio also describes her childlike imagination and her penchant for characters and stories as being the driving force behind her work. Each work is created around a personality and a story, with inspiration to be found in all manner of places, she says: “Characters can emerge from a mark or a stain on the floor, a pattern on the trunk of a tree or a person or animal I meet”.
This ethos certainly shines through in her work: smiling clouds rain down upon cavorting mountainsides who dance across the countryside wearing coats of trees and cottages, rich with her patterns. I spent my time in the gallery delightedly hopping from one piece to the next, enthralled by the detail, giggling at the creatures and imagining what they were getting up to. I think each piece can be read in a variety of ways and there are threads of narrative to be pulled out at the viewers discretion. I left with a feeling of being involved in the work, a dreamt up connection of imagination. Wheelers characters jostled in my mind as I walked up the road, their capers causing me to grin all the way home.

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